(R)Evolution: What Today's Streetfood Culture Shares With Its Global Heritage
There's nothing more evocative than the punchy colours and exhilarating aromas of unexpected foodstuffs, stopping us in our tracks in city streets and food markets, which are rapidly taking over from clubs and bars as the place to socialise on a Saturday night.
The spirit of life lived outdoors and shared celebration has exploded into our culture. Dinerama, Streetfeast, Mercato Metropolitano, and the soon-to-be Time Out Market - the much-documented street food revolution is undoubtedly upon us, and here to stay.
Steeped in centuries of history and evolution, literally every country of the world has its own street food story.
With infinite methods and varieties building up to the diverse street food culture of the here-and-now, there are a multitude of ways to recreate create original experiences for this experimental, upbeat and increasingly high-end concept - one which is moving ever-further from its primary association with poverty.
But we must always first look back to look forward, as understanding the past is the unshakeable starting point from which to conceive an original story. For if you lose track of the roots, it becomes something entirely different. NOT NECESSARILY BAD, just different. And that's a whole new story to develop.
To consider a street food-infused narrative, there are three common points of reference to remember.
Street food culture across the world stems from a place of poverty, and poverty is a well-known driving force for ideas and innovation. From hardship springs expertise in improvisation.
From an experiential perspective, it means handmaking and upcycling - developing skills at making or improving something from whatever is available - such as the hand-painted signs, carts with bicycle wheels, tin can lanterns we relate to the street food vibe. Makeshift seating and serving spaces, rough or unfinished, and a mismatch of hand-me-down finds in utensils, plates or cookware. Just enough to create the essence of the story, without being too persnickety about it and missing the point.
Of equal importance is conviviality: crowds of people; open communal spaces; impromptu tastings; conversations with strangers sparked over shared experiences - the ultimate party with no pretensions.
Street food is to dining what football (at its purest) is to sport - a collective passion and a great leveller that overcomes money, language and borders. It's uplifting and inclusive. So stay at home with your street food if you will... but be sure to invite all your neighbours.
Just writing the words 'Rio Carnaval' sets our hips a-sway - festival energy is infectious, grabbing quick and convenient eats and joining great rolling crowds, gathering up unsuspecting passersby into a non-stop conga line and bringing out the best vibes from all.
And then there's the pace of it - street food stalls in Mexico, for example, are typically fast and furious, usually surrounded by crowds of people attracted by the aroma of cooking and the skill of the vendors which is famously exceptional.
But this isn’t just about producing food fast - it’s about experimentation, art, theatre, deftness and poetry combined, on windows into food culture where the action never stops.
The sheer foodie force of cutting-edge food entrepreneurs teamed with long-established brands and culinary professionals has ensured we are in the midst of a revolution.
But here's the thing. The word 'revolution' denotes a fixed period of time, yet the millennia behind the street food concept ensures it will always have a place in our past, present and future.
So it's really street food EVOLUTION we have our eyes on - because it won't end, it will only evolve.
Street food culture expands far beyond the food itself; it's about people, and how they think and feel. It's spontaneity and quick set-up has created opportunities for entrepreneurs. Its improvisatory approach has encouraged waste reduction, reuse and ingenuity. Foodie adventures and a relaxed community are the new nightclub.
It reflects society at the time, and in our time it has aligned with a societal hunger for a better way of life, rallying an enthusiastic parade of open-minded, jovial foodie folk who hold simplicity, conviviality and good energy as values in both food and in life.
And that's fascinating. After all, it's a small world. We are all neighbours. And this amicable and progressive mindset is right up our street.